In a relaxed yet authentic fashion, Gensai fuses the true essence of the two gourmet capitals, bringing together the rich seasonal finds and long-established techniques. Based in the historic port city of Kobe, the kappo restaurant has become an ultimate favorite among local foodies, extending its Michelin streak since 2011.
Named after the Meiji writer Gensai Murai, the restaurant is a product of Chef Naoya Ueno’s culinary life. Born into an established family in Namba kappo cuisine and later trained at a top kaiseki restaurant, his experiences focus on the pure flavors of fresh ingredients and encompass a wide spectrum of styles from casual dining to formal meals.
Founded in 2004, the restaurant is located on Pearl Street, a quiet residential area west of busy Motomachi and Sannomiya. When preparing to open his own restaurant, Ueno was drawn to Kobe, more so than his hometown of Osaka, or Kyoto where he spent most of his training years. There was something so appealing to him about the city’s multicultural history and modern character.
Sharing the space with a highly-curated art gallery, the interior of Gensai is full of creative air and fresh greenery. Set with wooden architecture, the decor of the restaurant is warm and inviting. Two large counters, made of red pine, stretch across the room, from where you can look over the busy kitchen where Ueno and his team prepare and perfect every dish.
“There is really nowhere to hide,” Ueno laughs. “But I want the guests to enjoy the movements, sounds and smells as we cook.” Ueno’s openness has its root in his upbringing. As the son of the family that runs Kigawa, among the most famous restaurants in Namba kappo, he embraces the idea of hospitality and inclusiveness. Kappo, which means ‘to cut and to cook’, is a name for a less formal Japanese cuisine that emphasizes the closeness between the guest and the chef. Feel warm and relaxed by the chef’s friendly welcome before tucking into an incredibly authentic experience.
Bring out the deepest flavors in the treasures from the mountains and the seas.
From bamboo shoots in the spring, sweet fish in the summer, mushrooms in the fall and root vegetables in the winter, the flavors of Gensai change with the seasons. The picturesque meal moves through eight courses for lunch and nine for dinner. Each dish is carefully curated to bring out the deepest flavors in the treasures from the mountains and the seas.
“While putting a lot of work into each dish, we try to keep the cooking as simple as possible to bring out the natural flavors of the ingredients,” he says.
The unique recipes for aemono, dressed salad, have become a signature of Gensai. Aemono is all about algorithms and multiplication that can bring about wonderful results by mixing different ingredients, he explains. The recipe of the day mixed tofu with corn purée, shrimp, raw wood ear mushroom, carrots and locally grown Osaka shirona, a type of Chinese cabbage. The combination of all the different flavors are simply wonderful.
The assortment of colorful appetisers come served on a round lacquer plate with gold designs on the rim. In a little glass cup is a roll of snapper and cucumber, where the fish has been cured in kombu. Next to it is a little mixed salad of peppers and salted sweet fish. There is also a piece of deep fried Kawatsu shrimp, crisp on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside.
The sashimi plate celebrates the freshest catches of the season, including snapper and hamo conger eel from Akashi and tuna from the Indian Sea. Enjoy a refreshing flavor with tsukuri soy sauce and bitter orange or yuzu citrus juice.
The soup fried fish cake made of grilled salt-water eel and Yashiro okura. To complement, the flavor of the broth strong, made using ma-kombu and bonito. Many fans visit Gensai during the summer in hope for another taste of their sweet fish, caught in Lake Biwa. Towards the end of September, the fish is packed with flavorful eggs.
The main meat dish is a beautiful steak of Olive wagyu beef from Shodoshima Island. The tender and rare pieces of meat are layered on top of grilled local Shinmei eggplant. Drizzled with orange-infused teriyaki sauce, every bite is simply divine.
“Our cuisine could not exist without the producers,” Ueno says. “I really want to create a cuisine that is not just about the chef but can pass on the passion of the people who grow the ingredients.” He makes daily trips to the fish market to buy from vendors he’s known for over a decade. He also has some fishermen send fish directly from regional ports.
Committed to locally grown, he joins his father in pushing a initiative that promotes Naniwa vegetables. Osaka shirona, a type of Chinese cabbage, Torikai eggplant, green Usui peas are just a few of the many local variations. It has become a lifework for Ueno and his father to promote these local ingredients.
The selection at Gensai focuses on small and independent vineyards, including many local wineries. Ueno is working on a project to introduce and market Japanese wines with a hope that more people will start liking them. The restaurant also stocks about ten local sake from Fukuju and Miyakobijin. Pairing vintages with the flavors is a must but he also is careful about serving them at the best temperature for each vintage.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000